When we reached the place famed as the “End of the World” we felt grateful and impressed how arresting Ushuaia looked like. Our quest to explore the American continent from its northernmost point in North America to the southernmost one in South America approached its culmination.
It was time to celebrate and reflect on all those tremendous learning lessons about our planet’s diverse nature and wildlife, about the variety of cultures we came across and the friendships we built on the way. All these encounters helped us to discover more about ourselves and about each other.
By the time we arrived in Tierra del Fuego of Argentina, I was already 6 months pregnant. Our adventure couldn’t had been more rewarding.
Getting to Tierra del Fuego
After one year overlanding the Americas from one extreme to another we were about to enter Tierra del Fuego, the last province of Argentina. For that we had to cross into Chile again, pass by ferry the Strait of Magellan and in 200km to enter again Argentina.
We were excited to cross the Strait of Magellan, but not that thrilled for the customs process. Entering Chile required to cancel the TIP (temporary importation paper) of Brutus for Argentina, get our exit passport stamps, do a new TIP for Chile and obtain the entry passport stamps. Considering that Chile has strict regulations with the food one carries into the country, having to deplete again the food storage was not something we were happy about. But it had to be done.
In just 200km as we would exit the Chilean side, we had to cancel the TIP for Chile, redo the TIP for Argentina and get the new entry passport stamps. A bit of an unnecessary but unavoidable exercise.
Crossing the Strait of Magellan
We felt like reaching an extraordinary milestone when we got to the Strait of Magellan, the water way that separates the mainland of South America and Tierra del Fuego archipelago.
I remembered that geography lesson from the secondary school: “the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans” the teacher’s words came to my mind. “How on earth did we get here?” I could literally not believe we were about to cross the canal to the other end of the world. "It's fascinating to reach such a far away and historical maritime route!" I told JP. "This is awesome!" he added.
Besides the enchantment of that geographical point, we were surprised how professional and organized the Chilean authorities were in the process of crossing the strait by ferry. We paid 25$ ferry fee and waited for 20 minutes inside the truck to get to the other side of the canal. Everything happed quickly and pleasantly.
Driving in Tierra del Fuego
The scenery of the first day driving in Tierra del Fuego continued to be similar with what we had seen in Santa Cruz and Chubut provinces. We came across with vast territories of flat grassy vegetation, steppes, sheep farming, guanacos, Upland geese and oil exploration activities.
“These wild geese are so cute and expressive!” I told JP. “They remind me of “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils” by Selma Lagerlöf. The main character was a little boy, Nils Holgersson that traveled with the geese over Sweden. I always wanted to be this “Niels” to fly away with the geese in far away lands” I continued. “ I guess you are living the dream”, JP added. I guess he was right.
“Look how many oil exploration activities are going on here! It matches with the northernmost tip of the continent in Alaska, where we came across with the same kind of industry” I noticed. “It’s a sign of journey circularity. Things are concluding how they started. We are getting closer and closer to round up the cycle of our adventure” I added. JP was driving thoughtful looking in the horizons, somehow nostalgic.
The scenery approaching Ushuaia
As we approached Ushuaia the scenery changed dramatically. We thought it would continue flat with steppes kind of vegetation. But we were surprised to see white caped mountain peaks, steep cliffs, curvy roads, gorgeous lake views, spruce trees and fresh green vegetation. When it started to snow it seemed like a wintertime fairytale landscape.
I noticed that some sites had Romanian names. “How can this be possible?” I asked JP. Soon I found out that one of the most influential figures of the region was a Romanian jewish explorer called Julius Popper. He was a successful entrepreneur that got rights from the government of Argentina in 1886 to explore any gold deposits he would find in Tierra del Fuego. He became so rich and influential that he even had his own coins and stamps. I was somehow proud as Romanian.
But when I researched more I was so disappointed to understand that he was a central figure in killing the Selk’nam indigenous population in order to get more control of the land. It was pretty sad to see one more time the price for that kind of glory. His pictures showcasing indigenous people as hunting trophies were disturbing and showed the worst in us, human beings.
Ushuaia also famed as "Fin del Mundo"/"The End of the World"
When we made it to Ushuaia we were numbed by the wonderful view to the calm waters of Beagle Canal contrasting the snow powdered Martial mountains. The town famed to be “The End of the World” and the gateway for expeditions in Antarctica greeted us with a splendid sight.
"It seems to be a proper holiday destination" I said. "The infrastructure is good, there is a ski slope nearby, lots of nice hotels and authentic restaurants", I added. "Look at this serious maritime base. It makes you confident to adventure in Antarctica" JP added. We didn’t expect Ushuaia would look that developed and picturesque considering its position extreme south.
"I thought we would find a small settlement, with little to offer, something similar with Prudhoe Bay of Alaska", I said. "I guess you were wrong", JP added. "It is a proper vacation town with all the facilities needed to have a great time", he continued.
"The breathtaking scenery is just as mystic as “The End of the World” sounds" I told him fascinated by the view in front of me.
Celebrating victory… Hold on, not so fast!
After taking the postcard picture at “Fin del Mundo” landmark, admiring the vast and serene water sights of the Beagle Canal it was time to celebrate our “victory”. We booked for the first time in our sabbatical a 5 star hotel with all the spoiling facilities included. At 0 degrees outside temperature all what I was thinking about was to get comfortable in the cosy and warm hotel.
Hold on! Not so fast. JP was not done yet. He could not rest until he made sure the electric system of Brutus won’t fail because of the little sun exposure it got during the last days. The moment we arrived at the hotel, he plugged in the truck to the electricity grid.
"The transformer is working, but the energy monitor doesn’t show any improvements" he said worried. "I will stay inside the truck until the electricity system shows progress" he added. JP waited for hours, taking care of Brutus as if it would be a human being :)). He arrived in the room by evening: "I am exhausted, I need to rest" he said. "Of course", I added. "Let's pop up the champagne and then get some rest" I smiled. "Cheers! We made it! Can you believe it?"
In JP’s world
You might think JP was done at that point. I thought that too, but the saga was not over then. "I will wake up at 4:30am to check on Brutus, to turn the heater on and make sure the truck won’t freeze at minus degrees outside temperature like in happened in Esquel on Route 40", he said.
There were so many things happening in JP’s world. "When I will return I need to prepare for a job interview. It will be at 9am". JP started to look for jobs couple of months ahead knowing that once the journey would be over, we needed to get back to real life.
The morning came and after JP made sure the truck's integrity is not at risk he prepared for the interview.
"I got a face to face meeting in The Netherlands upon our arrival in Europe!" JP came out of the call exhilarated. "So we have more reasons to celebrate now!" I added happy for him.
But that day we both started to cough and had a running nose. It was the first time we got sick during our sabbatical. The continuous driving weeks and the cold took a toll on us. Everything was happening in the same time.
Reflections at “The End of the World”
While JP returned to sleep, I treated myself at the spa facilities reflecting on all those tremendous learning experiences we were exposed to on the road.
What a great opportunity this gap year was for personal development!
It gave me the chance to rediscover myself, to reflect on the values I wanted to keep and the new ones I wanted to embrace. I remember when we began the journey I was clouded by so much pollution I accumulated from a busy working lifestyle. I couldn’t see clearly who I was anymore.
Detaching from the system and traveling allowed me to see myself from a different perspective. Somehow all those clouds slowly slowly cleared out. I started to see again who I am and how important it is to stay true to oneself. It gave me the confidence to stand for what I believe in: to be a good person, to respect the others and the nature. To be compassionate, caring, generous, less judgmental and more emphatic. To stay humble, appreciate simplicity, look for balance, love and harmony in life.
I felt invincible
Somehow this adventure made me feel invincible.
Living with less for an entire year, allowed me realize that there are so few things we really need to be happy. It gave us some sort of freedom and strength that whatever it will happen we will manage with little. It made us appreciate the things we would take for granted before.
Having to plan on a daily basis the route, the overnight stays, places to visit, having to cook and to clean consistently taught me to be more practical, more hardworking and a better planner. Confronting adversity and challenging situations gave us the confidence that we can deal with any situation.
Meeting so many cultures and amazing people on the way made me realize that there is no “right way” or “the only way”, but the way that works for each of us. That nothing is absolute, but relative and solvable. It made us look at life as an array of unlimited possibilities. We were embraced with kindness and goodwill by each nation in their own way. And this helped us to recover the trust in people and humanity, to see beyond our own “box”, fears and limitations. That’s why most of the time we felt safe.
What it meant to us as a couple
As a couple it gave us the time and space to communicate and to learn more about each other. Not speaking the same native language and being born continents and cultures apart can trigger a lot of miscommunication.
Being often locked in the 8sqm space, the size of Brutus’ living cell, we had no other way but to find solutions that would make both of us happy. We discussed, debated and often fought over our differences. But we became more aware about the limits of each other and how important it is to respect them, accepting more of each one’s way of being.
We learned to be happy from simple things like taking a good shower, finding a good campground, having a fresh lunch, finding a laundromat or even a good toilet for the basic necessities. All these were part of your daily routines and when we accomplished any, it felt like we got a generous bonus for the day.
Somehow this journey was like a secret code to us. We had been through the best and through the worst times together in that 8sqm space of Brutus’ living cell. It created a strong bond between us.
Above all the sabbatical gave us a new family member, our much expected baby boy, Luca.
The wildlife and nature
We felt nowhere better than camping into the wild, just the two of us, Brutus and the silence of the nature. We spent a lot of time in solitude and those were one of the most energizing, peaceful and magical moments.
How can we ever forget the first encounter with the humpback whales in Nova Scotia, the random meetings with the grizzly bears in Alaska, the herds of bisons in Yellowstone National Park. Swimming with the nurse sharks, turtles and mantra rays in the Belize Barrier Reef and meeting the Toucan for the first time in Costa Rica. All these touching experiences made us kneel in front of our divine nature. Made us understand more the importance and urgency to protect our planet.
From the glorious flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountains to the mystic Andes that are running all along South America, from the dry deserts to the rich tropical forests, from the wild Pacific coast to the calm waters of the Caribbean sea. There was not one second we were not inspired by the divinity of our Mother Earth.
From the first moment we set foot in Canada people welcomed us with warm hearts. In Halifax of Nova Scotia, Colleen & Ian MacNab gave us the first helping hand accommodating us in their home and assisting us in setting up the truck for our departure. Not too far we were greeted by the Romanian Orthodox Church in Hamilton where my grand grand grandpa attended for 40 years.
In Yosemite National Park a young couple shared with us the last campground available in the park when we arrived exhausted and without prior booking. In California we received some of the best treats from friends we made on the road.
The road journey was a continuous encounter with wonderful and inspiring people that helped us to believe again in kindness and humanity. Often it was not about the place we visited, but the company and the friendships we made.
By evening it was finally our time to celebrate the end of our journey. We booked a festive dinner to savor a full menu of grilled seafood. It included the Argentine Merluccius, king crab, octopus, back cod, trout and seafood sausage. The selection was fresh and tender, grilled to perfection and was accompanied by a bottle of rose wine. From our truck menu to that treat, it was a total spoil.
It was 9:30pm and with the cold we got we could’t wait to go to bed and rest. While we were ready to leave, the Argentinian families just entered the restaurant.
"Look at these people. They are just entering the restaurant! It's impressive to see children eating this late" I said. "What time do they go to sleep?" I continued.
"The Argentinians adapted the Spanish eating habits" JP answered. "In Spain it is normal to go out for dinner from 10pm onwards".
"It's really funny that they inherited the same eating culture without considering the cold climate and the dark winters of this part of the world", I answered smiling.
Back on the road towards Buenos Aires
It was time to wake up from that fairy tale I enjoyed at Las Hayas hotel and get back on the road towards Buenos Aires. Although we needed more time to recover from the cold and the cumulated tiredness we had only seven days left to reach the capital of Argentina.
We had to drive every day 500km to make it. Our family from Brazil was welcoming us in Buenos Aires and the shipment of Brutus was booked from Montevideo back to Europe in three more days. So there was no time to hang around.
Back on the road we got an 8 degrees Celsius temperature, the sun was full on. "Look our batteries and the electricity panel is back to its 100% capacity" JP happily exclaimed.
"We are safe now. We made it honey!" I smiled.
Having to drive so much on the same route back to Comodoro Rivadavia and then further up to the capital offered us plenty of time to prepare emotionally for the closure of the journey and get ready for a new phase in our lives.
Nostalgic about the end
We were nostalgic about the end. "Our road trip, the dream, this sense of freedom, detachment from the society, from rules, regulations, gossips, contextual problems will soon be over", I told JP. "This sense of privacy, closeness to each other, “us on the road”, lost somewhere in the world, will be soon over", I added.
"Our nights alone in the truck, our cosy bed, our simple dinners, our routines, morning breakfasts will be gone", I continued.
"The expedition reached its purpose, reached its target, reached the end", JP added thoughtful.
"On one hand I am ready for the end considering that my belly is getting so big. I am feeling more uncomfortable on the co-pilot seat during these long drives, the weather is too cold to enjoy the outdoors, but I am nostalgic to close this phase of our lives." I answered.
"I don't want to end this sense of adventure, this unique way of traveling and discovering, this simplicity of life, the random inspiring people we meet and the genuine friendships we build on the road. It is a great feeling that nobody knows where you are, nobody knows your phone number, nobody calls" I added.
"We will definitely miss this journey, this “us”, this experience”, we kept saying to each other.
Live with the feeling
We had to live with that nostalgic feeling for days on our way up to Buenos Aires, to taste it, to suffer and bury it. We were heading into the next phase of our lives: meeting our family in Brazil, preparing for the baby delivery in Romania, deliver the baby, integrating in the “normal” society, embracing a new lifestyle. One thing was for sure: we were looking forward to the arrival of our first baby boy.
While we were driving up the coast I was watching the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There were no waves, some sort of composure that was announcing something.
Out of the blue in that apparent nothingness I could see blowholes… I was: “OMG … those must be the whales”! I told JP. The moment I looked twice, I could see them!! "They are the Southern Right Whales" I added. “I can’t believe my eyes!”.
The baleens were swimming up and down so close to the shore, some of them laying comfortably on their back, some others feeding their babies while others mating. We knew Puerto Madryn is known as a great spot for whale watching and we were on a mission to camp there for the night.
We drove to Playa de las Canteras where the Southern Right Whales could be best seen and where we could camp overnight. The baleen whales gather in this gulf between May and December due to the warmer waters and quieter sea areas, perfect ground to mate and give birth.
When we arrived by 5pm they were in full program: dozens of them swimming, rolling, showcasing their immense bodies and saying hi with their friendly tails.
“It is magnificent! I can’t get enough of it”, I told JP.
Truly elevating and relaxing,” JP answered.
Soon it got dark outside and we went to bed.
”Check out the milky way up the window”, I said. “Wow” JP answered. “And we can hear the whales and their mating sounds”, I added. "This is so special. These are our last moments of freedom", we added reflective.
"Just us and the whales", JP smiled.
Divine and unforgettable closure.